12 Rounds With ... Josesito Lopez

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Josesito Lopez loves to box about as much as he loves to breathe, so the fact he’s been out of the ring for nearly 21 months has been maddening. Making the long layoff even more intolerable is the way Lopez’s last fight ended.

Josesito Lopez and Andre Berto

Josesito Lopez looks for an opening against Andre Berto in March 2015. Lopez led the fight through five rounds, but was dropped twice and stopped in Round 6. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

It was on March 13, 2015—the second-ever Premier Boxing Champions show—when Josesito Lopez outworked former 147-pound world champion Andre Berto in the early going of a 12-round scrap at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California.

Through five rounds, Lopez was ahead on two scorecards—with one judge seeing it as a shutout—and he trailed by just a single point on the third card. It was all going according to plan for Lopez, who was fighting not far from his hometown of Riverside. Then less than a minute into Round 6, everything turned when Berto dropped Lopez with a big right hand.

Lopez beat the count of referee Raul Caiz Jr., but when the bout resumed, Berto went for the kill and quickly landed another knee-buckling right hand, this one to the temple. Lopez hit the canvas again, and this time Caiz immediately waved an end to the fight, much to the objection of “The Riverside Rocky,” who was adamant that he could’ve continued.

It’s taken nearly two years, but Lopez finally will get the chance to make amends for the Berto setback when he takes on Todd Manuel on Saturday at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles. The six-round bout is on the undercard of the Jesus Cuellar-Abner Mares and Jermall Charlo-Julian Williams championship doubleheader.

During a recent break from training for his ring return, Lopez (33-7, 19 KOs) expressed excitement about lacing up the gloves again and working with a new trainer. The 32-year-old former title challenger also discussed his lifelong love affair with boxing, the state of the ultra-competitive 147-pound division, his heavyweight dream and his indifference to social media.

Given how your last fight against Andre Berto ended, how eager are you to get back in the ring?

I am particularly pumped up. That [Berto fight] left a sour taste in my mouth. Unfortunately, I had some lingering injuries, but now I’m well-rested, my battle wounds are gone and I’m anxious and ready to go.

I’m rejuvenated, and I love boxing more than ever now, especially after having been away from the ring for this long.

How intriguing is it for you to now be working with trainer Robert Garcia, who was in the opposite corner when you lost to Marcos Maidana in June 2013?

You know, I really haven’t thought of that at all. He’s a great trainer and has made a lot of guys champions. He has that level of expertise being a former champion who has created champions.

I’m in a great position with him, and we have a great training relationship. We’re going to be fighting [Manuel] at a catchweight of 150 pounds, and I couldn’t be any happier with the work we’ve been putting in.

In the next few months, you’re going to see a great improvement, and when the time comes, we’re going to shoot for the big guys at 147 pounds.

Social media has created a different world where you witness a lot of fakeness, negativity and hatred. ... As much as I love some of this technology, I think it’s set us back a little bit as human beings. Josesito Lopez

Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …

… lost. I grew up with boxing. It’s a part of my family heritage. We learned how to throw punches at 2 years old. … This ring absence is the longest that I’ve been away from boxing, and I’m itching as a fighter and a fan to get back into it.

I can’t see myself not being involved in boxing. Definitely after my career is over, I would like help other fighters establish the same mentality to become a world champion and earn a living in the sport. It’s a beautiful sport to be a part of.

How old were you the first time you stepped into the ring?

I was 8 years old the first time I put on gloves and headgear and did my first sparring match in Chino, California. I remember I was cornered and getting hit with body shots. I lifted up my leg to help cover the body shots, and I remember my dad laughing and telling me afterward, “That’s not how you do it. You move, you spin, you turn him around.”

After every training session, it was a big deal to earn a 32-ounce Gatorade. That was my reward for the hard training I did as an 8-year-old, even though it was just the beginning. That meant a lot to me at the time.

That first time, I’ll never forget. Putting your leg up is not something you can get away with as a pro!

So would you say boxing was love at first punch for you, or did it take a while for the sport to grow on you?

Love at first punch. My boxing career started as a result of following my brother into the sport. I told my dad that I wanted to tag along, so he took me to the gym, and I tried to imitate and copy what everyone else was doing.

I wasn’t necessarily serious until about a year or so later when my brother wanted to stop boxing and I told my dad that I still wanted to go. We moved to Riverside, California, and I tried soccer, but I told my dad, “No, we have to find a boxing gym.” He was able to find a gym and a great trainer in Andy Suarez, who lived down the street from us.

Mr. Suarez would pick me up and take me and another six or eight kids to the gym every single day in a van. He would drive down the street and blow a whistle, and I would run out of the house with my bag. I would not return home until 9 or 10 at night. That was definitely a great experience as a kid.

Was there a fight you recall watching that made you realize you wanted to be a professional boxer?

The first fight between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera [in February 2000]. After that fight, it was a done deal for me.

It was a perfect matchup between two great Mexican warriors. I watched it at a garage with my dad and some of his friends. I couldn’t get out of my seat. It was just one of those fights where I said, “You know what? This is what I want to do.”

I started shadowboxing and moving around. I wanted to be like those guys.

Who’s the one fighter in history you wish you could’ve fought, and how would such a fight have played out?

Growing up, I was a fan of Morales, who is a warrior. I believe if we fought it would be a complete war. The more I think about it, the more intriguing a fight with one of my idols would be.

As for who would win, I can’t belittle what Erik Morales has done. He’s done a lot for the sport and created a lot of memories for myself and others. We both fought and lost to Marcos Maidana, so a fight between us would be one that no one would forget. The fans would win.

If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you’d want to compete in?

I would love to be a 225-pound heavyweight. It’s the big boys of boxing, and it takes one punch. It’s one of those divisions where you can arrive late in the sport and still succeed and become a world champion.

Unfortunately, heavyweight boxing has not been at its best [lately], like during the Mike Tyson era and even before that. I think heavyweight boxing is missing more action. I know that my good friend Chris Arreola has brought a lot of action into the division. And so would I.

Josesito Lopez and Victor Ortiz

Josesito Lopez tags Victor Ortiz with a left hook during their fight in June 2012. Lopez used the same punch to break Ortiz's jaw in the ninth round, leading to a stoppage victory.

Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch.

The perfect punch is not necessarily the one that’s thrown with the most torque or force, but more of an accurate, clean punch that you can slip between another fighter’s gloves.

One of my favorite punches is a left hook to the body. They’re the most painful and can stop you dead in your tracks. There have been several times when I’ve landed the punch and you could hear the opponent lose his breath. It’s a punch that can change everything.

My best left hook was definitely during the knockout win over Victor Ortiz. I landed a great left hook that broke his jaw and ended the fight.

What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit?

Five or six years ago, I had a good training camp with [late two-division champion] Edwin Valero, who was a fast, heavy-handed fighter. We were in camp, and Valero would have four or five guys lined up to spar him after he ran three miles to the gym while wearing a sauna suit. … I remember him taking the sauna suit off, then basically letting bombs go and dropping young fighters, one after another.

I’m thinking, “Oh, man, what did I get myself into?” They threw three guys in there before he got to me, and he dropped every single one of them. When it was my turn, I held my ground and I never got dropped.

But he was a real strong fighter with a lot of speed and movement, and I could feel the force of his punches. He’s definitely one of the hardest punchers I’ve faced. He had that natural strength to knock a guy out in one round.

What’s the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that most fight fans don’t understand?

There’s a whole other side of boxing that people don’t see on television. There’s an entirely separate life. Boxers are not just robots. They’re real human beings who go through real stuff and experience real situations.

Having seen people go through bankruptcy and things like that, you have to learn at a young age how to become your own manager with your money and how to protect your investments.

You have to be responsible and control yourself from unnecessary spending. You don’t start making a million dollars from your first fight.

Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in the 147-pound division right now?

It’s hard to say, because the division is wide open. But Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman have earned the right to be considered the two best [147-pound] fighters, as long as Floyd Mayweather’s gone.

I think that come March, it’s going to be a great fight between [Garcia and Thurman] to determine the right to be called the best in the division. There are a lot of fighters who can sneak in there and be right next to them, and then there are a handful of guys, including myself, who are hungry and who want to be in that position to get a shot at those world titles.

What is your most prized possession?

A few years back, I got an autograph baseball from [legendary Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher] Fernando Valenzuela with some words of wisdom from him.

Other than that, definitely winning the WBC silver belt from Victor Ortiz. That was the high of my life, after all of the hard work I had put in and being underestimated.

Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to learn that I …

… love me some nice, slow jams, like Boyz II Men and stuff like that.

Who is your favorite actor?

My all-time favorite would definitely have to be Denzel Washington. He’s been in most of my favorite movies that I can think of.

What is your favorite movie?

It’s a classic and one of my brother’s favorites as well: Rush Hour with Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. I could watch that every day. It’s hilarious to me every time I watch it.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?

I’ve been told on several occasions that I look like Benjamin Bratt. I’ve watched some of his movies, and he’s a great actor, so I would love for him to play me in a movie.

Which animal in the wild best describes your personality?

A badger sounds about right. I can’t be underestimated, but I wouldn’t say that I’m an intimidating guy. I don’t have the super-buff physique. I’ve always been the tall, skinny Mexican kid. But I can be ferocious and let my fists do the talking.

If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?

One would be President Obama. He’s inspirational and a great human being. His wife, Michelle, is equally great, doing a lot for the next generation of kids, which is one of my passions—looking to help the youth of this world.

I would put Michael Jackson on that list, as well. And then I’d have to have my girlfriend, Tanya Rodriguez, also sitting at the table.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Social media. It’s created a different world where you witness a lot of fakeness, negativity and hatred. I used to enjoy the one-on-one interaction and actually writing letters.

I’m an old-school guy, and instead of putting notes in my iPad or my phone, I still write them down with pen and paper. As much as I love some of this new technology, I think it’s set us back a little bit as human beings.

What’s on your bucket list?

I plan on traveling the world, [and] I want to reach out and touch as many lives as I can. The new generation has a rough life ahead of them, and if I could help them prepare for it mentally a little more, that’s what I would want to do for as many as I can.

“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: Former two-division world champion Paulie Malignaggi.

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